Regional Decisions: European Court

Guerra and Others v. Italy (Grand Chamber)

The European Court of Human Rights held that Italy violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to disseminate legally required information about an environmentally hazardous chemical factory to residents nearby. Article 8 recognizes the right to respect for private lives and homes. The Court held that the State delayed relaying information regarding the environmental effects of the production of fertilizers to nearby residents that would have enabled them to assess the risks they would be assuming by continuing to live in the town of Manfredonia, which was now particularly exposed to danger in the event of an accident at the factory. Accordingly, the Court held that the State did not fulfill its obligations to the applicant under Article 8.

Stockton and Others v. United Kingdom

The European Court of Human Rights held that applicants could not bring a complaint against the United Kingdom under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights for failure of the Water Authority to immediately warn the community of the dangers accompanying pollution of the water supply, because applicants did not meet the 6-month time limit requirement established in Article 26 of the Convention. Article 8 of the European Convention recognizes the right to respect for their private lives and homes, but is subject to the procedural condition established by Article 26, that the Court cannot investigate a matter within six months from a final decision by the domestic authorities.

Zippel v. Germany

The European Court of Human Rights held that applicants could not bring a claim under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights for failing to regulate toxic pollution emanating from a local municipal sewage treatment plant that contaminated their ponds because applicants failed to exhaust domestic remedies as required by Article 26 of the Convention. Article 8 recognizes the right to respect for private lives and homes, but is subject to the conditions put forth in Article 26 of the Convention, which states that prior to being considered by the ECHR, an applicant must exhaust all available domestic remedies. Because the applicants failed to initiate proceedings with the appropriate authorities under the Water Act, the Court cannot consider their claims under Article 8.

Timmer and ‘T Laakse Hoog B.V. v. The Netherlands

The European Court of Human Rights held that the Netherlands did not violate Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights for failing to regulate odor disturbances emanating from a pigsty adjacent to the applicants’ homes because the State considered the nuisance prior to granting the sty a license two years before the applicants acquired their property. Article 8 recognizes the right to respect for private lives and homes. The State determined that, considering the location of the sty in an agricultural area, the nuisance did not provide an an unacceptable environmental situation. Given the costs and uncertain effectiveness of arrangements suggested by the applicants, the Court cannot determine that the State neglected its positive obligations in balancing the interests of the affected applicants with that of the community as a whole.

Lopez Ostra v. Spain

The European Court of Human Rights held that Spain’s governmental inaction regarding pollution emanating from a facility twelve meters from applicant’s residence violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which recognizes the right of each person to respect for his or her private lives and homes. The Court noted that the although municipal authorities were not directly responsible for the emissions, the plant was built on town land and subsidized by the government. The Court determined that authorities were aware of the nuisance the plant caused to nearby residences and yet continually resisted the closure of the plant. The Court found that, despite the town’s eventual rehousing of the affected individuals free of charge, the municipality’s failure to take timely action regarding the lawfulness of the plant constituted a breach of its Article 8 obligations.

 

Zander v. Sweden

The European Court of Human Rights held that Sweden violated Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights by not allowing the applicant to appeal a domestic administrative decision regarding pollution emanating from a household and industrial waste treatment plant adjacent to the applicant’s property. Article 6(1) recognizes the right to a fair hearing by a tribunal regarding determinations of civil rights and obligations. The Court rejected the State’s argument that the provision of domestic law dealing with compensation for damage to property from environmentally hazardous activities was a matter of public law rather than a “civil right.” Accordingly, the Court held that the applicant was entitled to a review of the Licensing Board’s decision authorizing the waste treatment plant’s activities. Since Swedish law at the time did not provide for such a review, there was a violation of the applicant’s Article 6 rights.

Note: The application is based on a procedural issue ancillary to the environmental problem.

Powell and Rayner v. The United Kingdom

The European Court of Human Rights held that the United Kingdom did not violate Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to regulate aircraft noise and pollution from Heathrow Airport, located near the applicants’ homes, because the Government had taken due consideration of international standards, developments in aircraft technology, and the varying levels of noise disturbances experienced by nearby residents in creating the current regulatory regime. Furthermore, the Court rejected the applicants’ Article 6 and 13 claims that their limited entitlement to sue under English law is illusory, and determined that there is no bar on their bringing an action in nuisance under domestic law. Articles 6, 8, and 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights recognize the right to a fair hearing before a tribunal in determination of civil rights and obligations, the right to respect for private lives and homes, and the right to an effective domestic remedy in the event of a violation, respectively.